Have you heard? SiWC’s 31st annual writing contest is now open! Why not take a break from prepping your story submission to read our short interview with 2022 contest winner C.Z. Tacks, who was kind enough to chat with us over email about their win, their writing life, and why YOU should enter this year’s contest.
C.Z. Tacks is an Australian speculative fiction author who lives and works on the unceded lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. They can be summoned by placing a cool skull, a box of chocolates, and a history podcast in a pentagram drawn with a fancy fountain pen, or by any of the contact methods listed at cztacks.com. Their short story, Bliss Street, about a woman returning to her haunted childhood home, won the SiWC Jack Whyte Storyteller’s Award in 2022.
What inspired you to enter the SiWC writing contest in 2022?
There’s a longer, more complex answer to this, which I will deliver in my characteristic rambling fashion momentarily; however, the short answer, which is also the one thing I hope every writer takes away from this, is only two or arguably three words: don’t self-reject!
You wouldn’t know from everything else about me, but I have a secret perfectionist streak that has been the bane of my writing life. If I can’t get it right the first time, I don’t want to start at all. I am still working on overcoming this.
The SiWC contest met a perfect confluence of several factors that all came together and helped me push through. First, there was a deadline. Having an external motivator, like a deadline, or other people’s expectations, has always been more helpful for me than any amount of internal desire. Second, SiWC was a massive event for me. It was my first international trip in years, my first time travelling to Canada, and my first major writing conference. I wanted to finish and submit something to commemorate the experience.
Third, at the time, I had a project on which I’d stalled out. It had started as a pretty simple idea — renovating a haunted house — and spiralled out as I fell down a research rabbit hole on historical Australian architecture, how imported European folklore interacts with the Dreaming (Australian Aboriginal philosophy and mythology), feral and pest species in Australia, various traditions of household spirits… I discovered so many fascinating things I wanted to include that I lost sight of the story.
Thus, with an external deadline and this tangled mess of a project, I challenged myself to dig out the essence of the story and deliver it in under 4,000 words. This resulted in Bliss Street.
And — this is maybe the most important factor — when I showed Bliss Street to my friends and said things like, “This is too weird to publish,” and, “This isn’t good enough to submit,” my friends told me it was good. Then, with great affection, they bullied me until I submitted it. That was very helpful. And thus, we return to the key lesson: don’t self-reject! I was convinced Bliss Street would go nowhere, yet it won. Which frankly still hasn’t sunk in one year later!
What does your win mean for you as a writer?
Holy crows, I made Diana Gabaldon cry!
As mentioned above, I have a colossal perfectionist streak with which I wrestle daily. This is accompanied by imposter syndrome so profound that I once told my therapist I was probably faking my imposter syndrome. (This is, alas, not the least self-aware thing I have ever said in therapy, but it’s up there.) So having an objective authority — a big-time writing contest judged by prestigious and world-renowned authors — telling me my work was good was a huge kick in the butt for both those things.
Winning the Jack Whyte Award gave me the confidence I needed. It forced me to take a good look at myself and my approach to my work and realise that these things I thought were self-protective — not finishing things if I couldn’t do them perfectly, not submitting work if I thought it wasn’t good enough — were forms of self-sabotage. And shockingly, once I allowed myself to write crappy first drafts and edit things and got better about finishing things, the quantity and quality of my writing dramatically increased. Honestly, I should have been able to figure that out without flying to Canada first, but such is life
What’s new in the writing life of C.Z. Tacks?
I’m in the home stretch of editing a novel that I have been jokingly calling Seize the Means of Seduction for most of the past year, although I suspect that title will not survive publication. (About 70% of the work on this novel was done while I was a writer-in-residence at Bundanon Art Museum this year, and I would not have been brave enough to apply to that residency if it wasn’t for my SiWC win, so thanks again for that!) It’s essentially about what would happen if Kushiel’s Dart and The Lies of Locke Lamora had a baby, and then that baby got really mad about structural inequality.
I’m the Master of Ceremonies for the Aurealis Awards this year, which is a tremendous honour. These are major annual literary awards for Australian science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. Check out the shortlist at aurealisawards.org if you want a reading list of some incredible Aussie work!
I’m also programming Conflux (29 September-2 October 2023), Canberra’s longest-running speculative fiction convention. We’re actively recruiting speakers and panellists on all kinds of topics, and if that’s of interest to you — or if you’d like to buy a ticket — check out conflux.org.au.
And finally, I’m editing an anthology for my hometown writer’s group, the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. The working title is Body of Work. It’s a collection of short speculative fiction from writers living in or originally from Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand. Submissions close on 31 May 2023; full details on what we’re looking for can be found at https://csfg.org.au/publications/submissions-body-of-work/.
So what are you waiting for? Submit your story to the 2023 SiWC Writing contest! Full contest details and the submission form are available on the Writing Contest page.